VIOLENCE, GUNS, AND SOLUTIONS by Jonathan A. Weiss Esq.
The repeated public rhetoric after each horrific massacres by guns does not change, is superficial, and does not offer the general badly needed solutions. Two important principles must be incorporated into any solutions proposed. The first is to recognize that such slaughters, outside of wars, coup d’etats, and revolutions are often accomplished by other means. We need only recall the bombings from Oklahoma Federal Center, the Boston Marathon, and the World Trade Center; the gassing in the Tokyo subway, the trucks in Nice and elsewhere. Dealing only with gun violence misses the whole picture. The second is the passage of new laws often will not offer a real difference. What is important is enforcement (see the racial effect of the War on Drugs) and allocations of resources (compare funding for the industrial-military complex and the Pentagon with that for infrastructure, public transportation, environmental preservation (particularly with indigenous people adversely effected).
What we need do first is to explore the current meaning of “The Right to Bear Arms” giving concrete content to the abstract concept invoked in the Bill of Rights. Some suggest we must consider the matter with reference to the stated need of the militia.
Arms abstractly could include weapons of war from nuclear bombs to bazookas or, for an “originalist”, a single shot front loading musket. I suggest the best choice, with contemporaneous use and reluctance to expand into military categories, would be for firearms used in hunting, target shooting, and self defense which fit the category easily. Such a position would eliminate such weapons with multiple rounds (the current conventional limit seems 5 bullets). The type of bullets would be accordingly restricted. A practical problem lies, it must be noted, in the easy conversion of some guns to contain many magazines.
These ideas could be specified in carefully drafted laws. When we consider the reference to the militia, the argument could be that knowing use of guns is necessary to form a militia (against a tyranny? Invasion? Even expansion, morally suspicious?). This position also protects expert collectors of the acceptable guns. The consequence might then allow guns with many rounds and a range of more deadly ones as “arms”. We instead urge that the best interpretation would be just the ones now used for those three purposes as a means of preparation for forming a military. In any event, this is where a Democratic debate should start.
The current superficial rules offered can not work. There are too many guns in distribution right now. The barn door which may have restricted their circulation has long disappeared and can not be closed. No new laws (particularly governing sales) will prevent the availability of dangerous destructive weapons developed for war which are now generally available.
Ironically, the desirability of considering “mental health” is urged by the most constant public exhibition of dangerous pyschopathology ever seen in the United States, Donald Trump. We must recognize first that the most significant correlation between preceding acts and mass violence is previous domestic violence with a very small percentage of those then becoming mass murderers. Even if we claim, mistakenly, that crimes committed offer proofs generally of mental disease, not only could an increase in mass incarceration of citizens posing no real threat result, but also it would work retrospectively not correctly anticipatory.
“Mental illness” is very difficult if not impossible to define even with observation of bizarre behavior, which could manifest different causes from chemicals to extreme stress. We can not offers a category for illegality which is amorphous and often misapplied civilly. Most important is who decides and sanctions those so classified without the protections of criminal law due process. Its abuse, driven often by prejudice – including rejection of cultural and religious activities as “normal” is obvious.
Another offered remedy is background checks. Granted that there exists an absurd patchwork now does not mean that a properly used across the board system will create effective results particularly, as noted, with the giant numbers of weapons circulating – apparently a uniquely American problem – but we must acknowledge the Norway massacre with guns. The recurrent problem include implementation for refusal, by whom, under what criteria? Historically, we should note that the Black Panthers first showed up with guns in public for demonstration of strength and self protection. During the civil rights movement in the South, the disparity between the racist with guns and the innocent oppressed Blacks and activists in gun ownership created the inability for self protection by the oppressed – since the local racist authorities determined the ability to purchase guns legally and, given the rural South, able to inhibit access to the black market which provided only whites and in the South were so primarily sold. Such a recognition does not imply arming people in schools, etc not only because of the increased danger of accident and immediate availability of a tool for death but also because victims are in a paralyzing shock, unprepared, probably untrained so may do more harm than good a while exposing themselves. In Odessa armed police were surprised by an apparently unprovoked attack in a traffic stop.
People paroled are subject to restrictions which usually include gun ownership which, under any scenario, drives those who want guns to buy them secretly and illegally. Mental illness is too sloppy a category, as argued, “dangerous” so vague as to be easily misused.
Police searches and property invasion to seize guns would probably augment class and race differences. They are also prevented by the real application of the Fourth Amendment. They would create an unacceptable invasion into privacy with undesirable collateral consequences. At present, police forces promote the image that they discover and prevent plots of mass violence without violating basic rights. The failure to prevent the American tragedies seem to relate to bad intelligence practices (Syria?); deformed misleading public information (Iraq) or no proper communication (9/11) (with a fig leaf or ridiculous airport searches including shoe removal, etc.). In general, see Gopnik, September 2nd, 2019 New Yorker on spy against spy failure to inform foreign policy or domestic attacks. Unfortunately, in this complex contingent world, no system is proof against random acts of violence.
The atmosphere, led by the President, of hate and even violence encouragement, has led to some advocating rules against “hate speech.” But, it is one thing to communicate about committing a crime, and another to advance a general position. The importance of First Amendment protection is illustrated by the negative history of imprisoning pacifists for letter writing during World War I, the McCarthy era, suppression of artistic works for obscenity. “political correctness”, discrimination against religious groups, burning of Reich’s books, etc. (The underground dark web offers refuge too for people justly and unjustly paranoid.). That repression is not a solution to the problem of violence against masses.
The best solutions are short, middle, and long term. The short term solution which should have some good effects would be massive buy back of “assault” weapons with many rounds with location and prosecution of those who sell them. Such a measure is easy to formulate and might diminish the use of guns in these massacres.
The middle solution involves communities. The closing of community mental health centers. started by Ronald Regan, created an unmitigated disaster evidenced in the number of homeless. Reopenining them widely accompanied by outreach should help those disturbed individuals who might develop alienation and aggression developing into deplorable acts. Neighborhood activities after schools hours (e.g. night basketball) have been shown to diminish violence, particularly including guns. Counseling, particularly family Counseling should be made available, in schools and other institutions. In particular, social services including counseling should be available at various community centers in greatly increased quantity while accompanied by outreach. Or particular concern is involving parents with, when relevant, an emphasis on no abuse but patience. Architecturally, the size of housing projects and schools must be radically reduced with “all deliberate speed.” Educational programs for children and adolescents must emphasize the unique value of human beings. The expansion of programs where ex-Nazis etc. try to work with those considering leaving hate groups will help some people who might be dangerous individually or collectively. Allocation of resources for these programs, and others which bring people together, will be of real service.
Finally, the best permanent solution lies with the general solving of societal problems from segregation to alienation from work to no work. The provision of necessities for all – including but not limited to adequate housing, clothing, nutrition, public transportation, educational opportunity universally available, democratic participation encouraged and protected, also includes voting easily without improper intrusion or manipulation, etc. Arts encouraged and enabled, city planning on a human scale with many parks, environmental activity, ensuring that there is time and availability for enjoyment, the least and least harmful incarceration (institutional as well as punitive) with community courteous police acting for protection of citizens. In such an environment, we would expect fewer angry alienated hating individuals and groups. Perhaps this is utopian, but so is a world without violence, violence which uses weapons of war – itself with no place in utopia.